Wednesday, March 31, 2010

RANT: When rumors actually maim and kill, part 1

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 28:  Dr Andrew Wakef...Andrew Wakefield and wife, Image by Getty Images via Daylife
Since 1998, a bunch of paranoid parents, claiming that the MMR (mumps, measles, and rubella) vaccine may actually CAUSE autism, started an anti-vaccine movement, leading to massive drop in vaccinations for mumps, measles, and rubella. All of which were nearly eradicated in the 1980's and 1990's, that is, until this movement got started. Since then, these diseases are on the rise again. And autism rates are STILL going up for the past 10 years.

The only legitimate reason these anti-vaccine folks have that they can cite was a single paper, written by Andrew Wakefield and his group, published in February of 1998, in the British medical journal "The Lancet". So what did the paper actually say?

The paper is a study of twelve children with developmental disorders (i.e. autism). Eight of the parents claim that the symptoms started after the MMR vaccination. Studies show some sort of gastrointestinal problem in addition to the developmental problems seem to be in common among the children. However, the paper did NOT prove any sort of association between MMR vaccine and autism. What was its conclusion? Without the medical-ese, what it says is:
These kids, previously normal, now have digestive problems and autism, which seems to be triggered by something in the environment.
Absolutely NO mention of the vaccine at all was in the paper's conclusion. 

The author, Andrew Wakefield, in a press conference before publishing the paper, stated that he believe it may be prudent to use single vaccines instead of the triple-combination MMR vaccine until it can be proven that there really is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism, even though there was no evidence that single vaccines will avoid triggering autism. This is his personal opinion, and was NOT in the research paper.

In 2004, investigative reporter Mr. Deer in the UK found that Andrew Wakefield has received 55000 Pounds from Legal Aid Board, an organization of solicitors (British lawyers) seeking evidence to sue vaccine makers. What's more, several of the parents, whose children were cited in the paper, were also litigants. Wakefield insisted that the money was for a separate unpublished study, but his colleagues, many of whom co-authored the 1998 paper, was shocked by the revelation. This is a severe conflict of interest, and the lack of disclosure severely damaged Wakefield's reputation among his peers. And the Lancet, who published the paper was not pleased.

Another report in 2004 revealed that Wakefield had applied for patents on a vaccine that was a rival to the MMR vaccine. The report also alleged that Wakefield knew that the results from his own lab contradicted his own claims. Wakefield denies the charges.

By this time (2004), 10 of the 12 coauthors of the 1998 paper retracted their support of the conclusion in the 1998 paper.

in 2006, the same reporter published in the Sunday Time sthat Wakefield had in fact received over 400000 pounds (yes, four HUNDRED THOUSAND pounds) from lawyers attempting to prove that vaccine was dangerous, and the payments started in 1996, two years before the paper was published in the Lancet.

In 2009, Sunday Times reported that Wakefield has actualy manipulated patient data and misreported the results in the 1998 paper to create the appearance of a link to autism. Wakefield had denied the charges.

In 2010, Wakefield was found by the General Medical Council of UK, responsible for all ethics and licensing of doctors, to have acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" and to have acted with "callous disregard" for the children invovled, conducting unnecessary and invasive exams. His conflict of interest in the reserach, and his tests which were not approvd by an indepdent ethics committee, were both violations of the Declaration of Helsinki, the recognized standard for research bioethics.

The Lancet responded by issuing a full retraction of the 1998 paper on February 2, 2010 after the GMC announced their rulings.

In any case, further studies in the UK, US, and Denmark have disproved any link between MMR vaccine and autism. Furthermore, Japan, which introduced MMR vaccine in 1989, but discontinued in 1993, continues to show increasing numbers of autism. In fact, almost every study done since have failed to locate ANY link between MMR vaccine and autism. In fact, some studies have shown that the Wakefield study could NOT have produced ANY sort of meaningful result due to contamination issues with technology available then. Nor could they find any sort of link between the gastrointestinal problem and MMR.

What this panic actually have done is raise the cost of vaccination, when governments have to spend a ton of money to fund the studies, to defend itself, and the doctors, and the vaccine makers against lawsuits. The risk of getting sued has also discouraged some vaccine makers to get out of the business, decreasing competition, and increasing prices.

What's worse, this panic, resulting in parents not vaccinating their children, dropped the vaccination rate below the threshold needed to control an epidemic spread of those diseases, resulting in breakout of mumps and measles in the 2000's, and that costs $$$ to treat, and some children died as a result of not having their vaccines that could have protected them.

Yet when it was announced that the Lancet was retracting the study, guess what these anti-vaccine folks say? "It's all politics!"

Maybe it is, but this is a case when politics were defeated by SCIENCE. In other words, these folks are ready to blame someone else for their problems (and maybe get some huge settlements as a result), and of course they don't want to hear any REAL science that says they are just being stupid. And who's suffering in the meanwhile? The children who didn't get the vaccine they should have.

And it is not just the US suffering from these fears. At least one Muslim country is doing without any polio vaccine, something eradicated from the US long ago, because at least one Mullah (Islamic religious leader / wiseman) had issued a Fatwa (a religious ruling) that children should not get polio vaccines. Why? He believes it's a plot by the Zionists (i.e. Israel) to make all Muslim men sterile. (Wait, only boys get these?)

Irrational fear kill people. 
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